Celtic Illumination, part 76, Corporal punishment
Apart from the humiliation and embarrassment I felt at being an assistant air traffic controller anyone could see, at that time, that it was a dead end trade. On average people were waiting ten to twelve years to get promoted. The next rank we could achieve was Corporal and the existing Corporals at Valley didn’t really enthuse anyone to want to follow in their shoes.
We had every flavour of Corporal possible; there was a local Welsh fellow who had his initials in gold lettering on each door of his car. The letters were only about two inches high, but come on, I mean would you? There was the Scottish Corporal. A wiry little man that smelled like a well-used public house. He always, no matter where, or when, you met him, stank of beer. I would normally meet him at midnight and try and persuade him to go back inside his house, for when drunk he was always found stripped to the waist, in his front garden, screaming insults at passers-by. It was felt that with my particular set of skills I was most suited to restraining him and encouraging him back inside his house.
There was an English Corporal, Peter. He was a nice fellow. He lived in a private house in a local village that was next to the sea. After a night shift we would go to Peter’s house and go out fishing in his boat. We were actually bombed one morning by a couple of friends messing about in a chipmunk, which is a tiny two seater training aircraft, who thought it hilarious to chuck all sorts of rubbish at us from one hundred feet above. However there was never a finer meal to be eaten than a couple of mackerel you’ve just caught yourself, grilled lightly, with a fresh, soft, bread rolls and a decent lump of real butter.
There were two Irish Corporals, Paddy O Reardon and Larry Power. Larry was a bean stealer, which is a term we used for a married person who lived in single accommodation. Larry’s wife and children lived in Dublin so he was always nipping off to see them. Paddy however was a different bucket of mackerel altogether. Not many people wanted to work with Paddy and I am sorry to say this, but he was the sort of chap who encouraged Irish jokes to be told in the first place. For God’s sake even I thought he was thick.
Valley was known as a military emergency diversionary airfield, a MEDA. Roughly translated that means that it was open twenty four hours a day and was able to accept any type of aircraft. A skeleton crew kept the airfield ticking over during the night and over weekends and public holidays. Certain people took this duty very seriously indeed. All of air traffic control, in fact the whole bloody station, would curl up in a suitable corner and go to sleep. One person would be detailed to remain awake and alert throughout the night. Usually someone who was always in trouble.
It was a horrible duty, not because you would have the met office call you on the hour, every hour, with an update of the weather, which of course would involve answering the phone and writing stuff down. You would be left in a tiny room where the horrible clock ticked every minute, like someone hitting a snare drum. Paddy would actually check on you through the night and make sure you were awake, and if you weren’t. Guess what? You’re on a charge me lad.
You couldn’t make a brew, because two people would be sleeping in the kitchen area. You couldn’t go to the toilet because the phone would be unmanned. And if they caught you trying to have a pee out of the window, guess what, yes, you’re on a charge me lad. Paddy was not just useless he was completely mad as well. Or at least we all thought so. If there was a quiet period Paddy would be writing letters and God help you if you asked him what he was doing, for he would only be too glad to tell you.
Paddy was convinced that there was enormous potential in harnessing the power in the waves on the sea. He was writing to every government department he knew in Ireland encouraging them to investigate and research the potential of wave power. He suggested that some sort of devices could be anchored around Ireland; he was particularly interested in the Bantry area and was convinced that this was the way forward. In fact he was so convinced of his plan that he was writing to the British government and Prince Charles suggesting that such a project could be set up in Cardigan Bay that would provide free electrical power for all of Wales, for ever. You may think that I might now look back and scold myself as Paddy would appear to be a bit of a genius on the side. But you would be wrong. Why I hear you ask, well, I bought Paddy’s car.
The vehicle in question was a Vauxhall Victor. It was an old vehicle and had been modified by Paddy. I’m not talking about standard modifications like go faster stripes or whip lash aerials. Paddy would have viewed those as show off stuff. The first modification he showed me was the ball compass on the dashboard. Not very advanced but Paddy assured me a necessity in the wilds of Wales should you get lost. I preferred signposts and maps myself, but each to their own.
You didn’t need a key to start this particular car. The ignition slot was so worn you could have started it with a lollipop stick, and a blunt one at that, however these were the days when cars had a choke. This was a device used in cold weather to help get the engine started. Basically the choke delivered more fuel to the engine and which warmed the engine up more quickly. The choke cable on this car had broken so Paddy, rather than replace it had attached a short piece of white electric cable, so you could see it.
On a cold morning you would have to place a house brick on the accelerator then open the bonnet to give you access to the engine compartment. You would flick the fuel feed, a couple of times, pull the white electrical cable, the choke, and push the starter button. With a bit of luck the engine would start. Not the sort of actions that you would enjoy carrying out on a cold Welsh morning with the wind coming in sideways off the Irish sea and the rain by the bucket load from the mountains.
With the bonnet open you could begin to see other modifications that Paddy had installed. The brass water tap would have been one. A radiator hose had burst so rather than get a new one Paddy decided to cut away the burst section of pipe and put a brass, cold water tap, in its place. There was no rhyme or reason for this, the tap was lying around his garage and looked as if it might fit. The tap was held in place with two jubilee clips. The only problem was that I never knew if the tap was open or shut.
Should it be shut then the car would overheat and explode. But this was another modification that Paddy had installed in the car. He hated being caught in long queues especially during hot summers, one which was the cause of the burst radiator pipe in the first place, so he had installed a kitchen extractor fan in front of the radiator, which you could operate from the driver position if you were ever overheating.
And then things began to change. For the better, we all hoped, for a new Corporal arrived. He was young, well; he was somewhere around his mid-twenties, Rod Shackelton. Most of the chaps though ‘hello we don’t have to wait for someone to die before we can get promoted anymore’. However I wasn’t so sure for Rod rattled when he walked. The poor fellow was on quite a high daily dose of valium and I wondered if the effort of getting promoted would be worth it.